Apple Announces New iPhone, Mac OS X, MacBooks

At its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco yesterday, a Steve Jobs–less Apple attempted to live up to the on-stage shenanigans of its maestro, announcing new products, taking one-sided jabs at competitors, and generally exaggerating things before a tittering, sycophantic crowd. None of the announcements were particularly surprising or innovative, but the Apple-friendly journalists, developers, and enthusiasts who attended the keynote event ate it up without question, as always. In this world, style wins over substance.

Among the key announcements is the iPhone 3G S, which will ship later this month. Built into the same form factor as the current iPhone 3G, the 3G S is "twice as fast" as its predecessor—the usual caveats about Apple's typically ludicrous claims apply here—and supports a higher-speed wireless network that AT&T won't start rolling out until late 2009. The 3G S also sports a better camera (with video support) and will feature unique software features that Apple will not provide to existing iPhone 3G users. It appears to be a nice upgrade, given the confines of the form factor.

Where Apple giveth, however, Apple taketh away. While the iPhone 3G S will retail for a reasonable $199–$299, depending on the model, those prices do not apply to existing iPhone 3G customers, who will instead pay $500–$600 to upgrade, thanks to the subsidization model used by wireless carriers.

Apple also announced that it would ship the third release of its iPhone software, iPhone Software Update 3.0, later this month. iPhone 3.0 is free to all existing iPhone customers, but it will cost $10 for iPod touch owners. It is a minor release with improvements to the core applications, cut-and-paste support, full support for MMS multimedia messaging (finally), and integrated search. However, AT&T, the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the United States, is also dampening the positive vibes of this release by not supporting two of its key features: US-based iPhone users will not be able to tether their phones to their PCs or use MMS. It's unclear how or when these features will be provided, but one can expect AT&T to charge extra for the privilege.

On the Mac OS X front, Apple now claims that there are 35 million active Mac users, once you filter out the 40 million who are actually using iPhones and iPod touches. (Oh, Apple.) This is the first time in several years that Apple has suggested there are more than 25 million Mac users. (Put in perspective, there are more than 1 billion active Windows users.)

Apple said it will ship a minor upgrade to Mac OS X Leopard, dubbed Snow Leopard, in September. It looks, acts, and feels a lot like Microsoft's Windows 7, which will ship in October. But since Snow Leopard doesn't change the OS X experience as much as Windows 7 does on the PC side, Apple will charge just $29 for the release if you already have Leopard. (It's a whopping $129 otherwise.) In Microsoft terms, the release is essentially a service pack (and the type of thing Microsoft can and does distribute for free).

Apple consolidated its MacBook and MacBook Pro laptop lines into a single MacBook Pro line and upped the specs on all the machines. You can now get a "low-end" 15" MacBook Pro for just $1,599, but Apple didn't really lower prices, it simply added a new model; higher-end MacBook Pros still cost $2,000 to $2,500. In fact, a 17" MacBook Pro is roughly four to five times as expensive as a typical 17" PC laptop. (The 13" MacBook, uh, Pro, is now a much better deal, however. That said, its $1,199 starting price is roughly double that of a typical PC laptop.)

The company also announced a new version of its web browser, Safari, for both Windows and Mac OS X. Safari has evolved into a rebranded version of Google Chrome, with a different JavaScript engine and a few Apple design cues. In a bizarre move reminiscent of Microsoft, the version that's bundled with Snow Leopard will include special features not available elsewhere, like crash protection. The irony of this was, of course, lost on the adoring crowd.

All in all, it was a typical Apple event: condescending and self-congratulatory, with its moments of actual tech excitement somewhat diminished by hidden realities and mind-numbingly boring demos, in this case of third-party iPhone apps. No one presents a more positive picture than Apple, and that's apparently true with or without Steve Jobs. For the wider industry, the only news of note here involves the iPhone 3G S, which looks truly interesting. Unless, of course, you're one of the estimated 20 million or so who already purchased an iPhone 3G

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